Historic Center (Old
Town) of Tallinn (1997)
Back to index
The origins of Tallinn date back to the 13th century, when a castle was built there by the crusading knights of the Teutonic Order. It developed as a major centre of the Hanseatic League, and its wealth is demonstrated by the opulence of the public buildings (the churches in particular) and the domestic architecture of the merchants' houses, which have survived to a remarkable degree despite the ravages of fire and war in the intervening centuries.
Tallinn is an outstanding and exceptionally complete and well preserved example of a medieval northern European trading city that retains the salient features of this unique form of economic and social community to a remarkable degree.
Tallinn (in German Reval), is the capital of Estonia, on the Bay of Tallinn (an inlet of the Gulf of Finland). It is a major Baltic port and naval station and an important industrial center. Manufactures include machinery, electrical equipment, ships, textiles, furniture, and canned fish.
The city consists of three sections:
The 45.6 meter Pikk Hermann, a corner tower of the former medieval fortress of Toompea in Tallinn, which now serves as the Estonian parliament building, has always been the main flag tower of the country.
||The decision to fly the Estonian blue, black and white
national flag from Pikk Hermann was first made by the government of the
young Republic of Estonia on 12 December 1918 and it flew there until the
summer of 1940 when Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union. Through the
period of Soviet and Nazi occupations (during World War II), a total of 44
years, other flags stood at the tip of the tower. It was restored to its
legitimate place in the days of the Singing Revolution, the Estonians’
peaceful drive to reestablish the country’s independence.
The heart-moving flag-raising ceremony took place on the morning of Independence Day, February 24, 1989, one and a half years before Estonia officially declared the restoration of its sovereignty. The flag at the tip of Pikk Hermann is hoisted every day at sunrise, but not before 7 a.m., and is lowered at sundown, but not later than 10 p.m.
The Town Hall of Tallinn is the best-preserved residence of a medieval city council in Northern Europe. First mentioned as a consistorium in 1322 and as town hall in 1372, it acquired its present Gothic appearance after reconstruction under master mason Ghercke in 1402-04. The Tallinn Town Hall is two-storied, built of local limestone with a tall saddle roof and an octagonal console tower. The Late Renaissance spire with open galleries as well as the dragonhead waterspouts through a decorative parapet along the top of the façade are of 1627-28.
|A trooper-shaped weathervane called Vana Toomas (Old
Thomas), one of the best-known symbols of Tallinn, has been standing at
the top of the spire since 1530.
The main rooms are on the first floor – the Citizens’ Hall of Gothic features and the mainly baroque Council Hall, furnished with old and new art treasures in 1667. Rebuilt in Gothic Revival style in the 19th century, the Town Hall was restored to its original appearance in 1971-75. Today it continues to fulfil its traditional function of being the backdrop to festive ceremonies and functions of the City.
Designed by Johann Caspahr Mohr in strict Classical style, the conspicuous house with a balcony supported by six Doric pillars perches at the northern edge of the cliff of Toompea in central Tallinn.
||On completion in 1792, the house, intended as the seat of
the Courts of Justice of the then Russian Province of Estland, was taken
into use as the town residence of Count Jakob Pontus Stenbock.
After serving various other purposes, it was finally turned into a court building in 1891 and maintained that function until 1987.
Later the house remained derelict for nearly a decade until renovators moved into it in 1996. The Estonian government, which earlier occupied a set of rooms in the nearby Toompea palace, met for its first session in Stenbock House house on 8 August 2000.
Tallinn is the home of the Estonian Academy of Sciences and a polytechnic college. It has several theaters, two symphony orchestras, and an opera company. Dotted with soaring cathedral spires and sentry towers, and linked by a labyrinth of cobblestone streets, most of Tallinn has the appearance of a medieval settlement rather than of a modern capital city.
The first mention of a settlement on the site of Tallinn dates from 1154, when the Arab geographer Abu Abdallah Muhammad al-Idrisi placed the town on his world map under the name of Qualawen.
In 1219 King Valdemar II "The Victorious" of Denmark took the fortress of Toompea after having fought the Livonians in a bloody battle, and renamed it to Reval [Rävala], which was the city's official name up to 1918. The Estonians themselves call their city Taani Linn [The Danish Castle] from where the name Tallinn is derived.
The castle’s stone walls and sentry towers punctuate the city today. The town joined the Hanseatic League in 1285 and soon attained considerable commercial importance.
In 1346 the Danes sold Tallinn to the Teutonic Knights. It was acquired by Sweden in 1561 and was annexed by Russia in 1710. The city then became a naval base for the Russian Baltic fleet. During the 17th and 18th centuries war and disease took heavy human and economic tolls on Tallinn.
In the 19th century the city finally reversed its economic decline after the Russians built railroads and developed industries in the region. Tallinn was the capital of independent Estonia from 1919 to 1940, when the republic was annexed by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The city was occupied by German forces in 1941. Retaken by the USSR in 1944, the city then served as the capital of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) until 1991, when Estonia again became an independent republic.
Some notes about the Estonian national flag
In this issue of the Estonian flag (1991, Scott # 209), the name of the country is microprinted in various forms:
Eesti (Estonian language)
Click on the stamp to see the microprint clearly. The link will open in a new window.
The name "Igaunija" is Estonia in Latvian language. The name was coming originally from Ugandi county/district (in southern Estonia) from very old times. if I remember correctly it goes back to around the 11th-13th century. The same way as in Finnish Estonia is Viro what's coming from Viru county/district in nothern Estonia. More information about Igaunija is available here.
Many thanks to Mr. Vaido Lillemaa (Estonia), for all help and research.
Other World Cultural Heritage sites in Estonia (on this web site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Estonia-section, for further information about the individual properties.
Back to index
Revised 21 jul 2006